Al Qaeda says French hostage 'executed in Mali'
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An alleged spokesman for al Qaeda’s North African branch told a Mauritanian-based news agency late on Tuesday that the group had executed a French hostage held since November 2011 in Mali. France is investigating the report.
A French hostage has been executed in Mali in retaliation for France’s military intervention in the country’s northern region, a man claiming to be a spokesman for al Qaeda’s North African chapter told a Mauritanian news website late Tuesday.
In Paris, a French Foreign Ministry official said the government is aware of the report of the killing of a French hostage, kidnapped on November 11, and is investigating.
The Nouakchott Information Agency, or ANI, frequently used by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, to post messages, published the report late Tuesday.
ANI quoted a man who identified himself as Ghairawani, a spokesman for AQIM, as saying the group’s fighters had executed a French “spy”, on March 10.
“The French President [François] Hollande is responsible for the lives of the other French hostages,” he warned.
Two Frenchmen were kidnapped from their hotel room in Hombori in eastern Mali in November 2011. Their families have said they were in the region to study setting up a cement factory there.
The mens’ families denied that the two men were mercenaries or secret service agents.
AQIM swiftly claimed responsibility for the kidnappings, and in August last year a video of the hostages complaining about “difficult living conditions” was released on a Mauritanian website.
French troops launched an operation in January to bolster Mali’s embattled government in its effort to prevent Islamic militants in the country’s northern region from advancing southward.
France now has more than 4,000 troops on the ground in the country, of whom about 1,200 are currently deployed in the northeast, carrying out clean-up operations after driving out most of the Islamist rebels from the area.
The French troops in the region are backed up by African forces.
But there are still pockets of resistance in areas such as Gao (in the north), which have witnessed stray attacks and suicide bombings since the Islamists fled, and the intervention has raised fears of retaliation against French hostages.
Fifteen French citizens have been taken hostage in the region. Among them is a family of seven, including four children who were seized a month ago in Cameroon.
Meanwhile, the French army on Tuesday announced that 15 Islamist fighters had been killed in recent days in Gao, with the seizure of a large cache of arms and ammunition.
The AQIM source cited by the Mauritanian news agency refused to confirm reports that top Islamist rebels Mokhtar Belmokhtar and Abdelhamid Abou Zeid had been killed in Mali earlier this month.
France has been carrying out DNA tests to determine whether the militant leaders are among those killed in the recent fighting.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)